MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 93

Guests on Volume 93: Alan Jacobs, on practical consequences of belief in original sin (and the five distinct components of that belief); James A. Herrick, on redemptive myths advanced by science fiction and speculative science and on evolution as a religion; J. Daryl Charles, on the commitment by the magisterial Reformers to the idea of natural law; Robert C. Roberts, on the role of emotions in ethical and spiritual life; Allan C. Carlson, on how the industrial revolution changed the shape of households (including their floorplans) and the understanding of marriage; and Sheila O'Connor-Ambrose, on the work of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese in defending marriage against the various claims of individualism.

Click here to download printable informational materials for this issue.

Part 1

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    Alan Jacobs on practical consequences of belief in original sin (and the five distinct components of that belief)

    Original Sin: A Cultural History (HarperOne, 2008)

    "The key challenge [for Rousseau's educational philosophy] is how do I protect an innocent, noble child from the perversions and corruptions of this world… Wesley says okay the first thing you have to understand about children is that they come here tainted by original sin, they're selfish, they're cruel… and so what you have to do is to break the spirit of these rebellious children if you're going to have any hope of instructing them in anything..."
    Alan Jacobs

    This issue begins with a conversation with Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College, in which he discusses the divergent views of the nature of humanity implicit in various educational philosophies and policies. Regardless of how aware or unaware teachers and administrators are of the implicit assumptions embedded in kinds of educational practices, those assumptions dictate the approach teachers take in educating children. Jacobs uses this example to elaborate on how thinkers in the pre-modern and modern eras understood the evil that arises in daily human life, evil that transpires across the ages and distances between human cultures. Original sin, in the Christian conception, has five distinct components that have been shared in part or in whole by a number of philosophers in history, and what people believe about this has had radical influences on the course of Western civilization.

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    James A. Herrick on redemptive myths advanced by science fiction and speculative science

    Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs (InterVarsity Press Academic, 2008)

    "[There is a kind of] redemptive mythology: we will redeem ourselves through technologies, through enhancement of the human body and brain, and through various blendings of technology and an enhanced humanity, and so this is an effort to realize some of the visions that have been in the forefront of science fiction writing… of a kind of coming human race."
    James A. Herrick

    This segment brings us Professor James Herrick who talks about the myriad ideas and mythologies in popular consciousness that find their origins in science fiction. These ideas range from science as the only source of knowledge, to the beginning of human civilizations, to the destiny and salvation of mankind. Just as the line between science and science fiction is often blurry, the line between science fiction and religious belief is often porous as well. One of the reasons for this overlap is the tremendous motivating power of religions and mythologies which many science fiction writers recognize and utilize.

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    James A. Herrick on evolution as a religion

    Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs (InterVarsity Press Academic, 2008)

    "[There is a kind of] redemptive mythology: we will redeem ourselves through technologies, through enhancement of the human body and brain, and through various blendings of technology and an enhanced humanity, and so this is an effort to realize some of the visions that have been in the forefront of science fiction writing… of a kind of coming human race."
    James A. Herrick

    In this segment, Ken Myers continues his conversation with Professor James Herrick on his book Scientific Mythologies . To Herrick, much of the language of proponents of scientific progress is not strictly scientific, but resembles animistic or pantheistic expressions of an over-arching vision that gives history meaning and a sense of purpose necessarily absent from strictly materialistic conceptions of reality. Herrick gives examples of ways that some popularizers of science have rhetorically treated the concept of evolution as a pseudo-deity that, in some sense, guides and directs history as it unfolds. Others create or adapt modern mythologies of space and extra-terrestrials, linking them to progressive development in power and human self-understanding.

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    Robert C. Roberts on the role of emotions in ethical and spiritual life

    Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues (Eerdmans, 2007)

    "So I think it is healthier for psychologists really to study the positive traits, rather than just having some vague conception in the background of what it is to function properly and then concentrating on all the dysfunction."
    Robert C. Roberts

    This segment features Robert C. Roberts, Distinguished Professor of Ethics at Baylor University, who discusses the import of emotions in the Christian life. He points out that through history, the Church has had to engage various psychologies, from that of the Stoics to current academic skepticism, and to seek to properly place emotions within the context of biblical obedience. Roberts describes the relationship between character virtues and emotions and the place of both in ethical life that is about more than simply following rules. Academic interest in the place of virtues in ethics received a boost from the publication of Alastair McIntyre's After Virtue, and Roberts explains how the influence of the virtue tradition has seeped into positive systems of contemporary psychology, as opposed to simply documenting and treating negative disorders.

Part 2

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    J. Daryl Charles on the commitment by the magisterial Reformers to the idea of natural law

    Retrieving the Natural Law: A Return to Moral First Things (Eerdmans, 2008)

    "The worry was that natural law does not take sin seriously enough. Now that is a legitimate concern, that there is an overly sanguine or optimistic view of reason and human nature that then undermines the issue of human depravity…. But I would say that's not the case, and if that were the case, then the magisterial Reformers would have denied and renounced natural law on explicit grounds."
    J. Daryl Charles

    J. Daryl Charles joins us to talk about the recent resurgence of natural law thinking among some conservative Protestants who had been generally disposed to suspicion concerning the idea. In Charles's research, he found that the magisterial Reformers, while having deep theological discontinuities with the Roman Catholic magisterium, nonetheless shared the basic ethical bedrock of a natural law rooted in God's creation of the world. Post-magisterial Reformers likewise shared a common conception of the basis for moral order. Since then, Protestants grew opposed to the natural law tradition because of fears that natural law does not take original sin and man's depravity into account. But Charles traces the idea back through history and argues that John Calvin himself affirmed the reality of a natural law while holding to human depravity, and that the stereotype of anti-natural law Reformed thinking was a later development aided by thinkers like Jacques Ellul, who believed that the Fall had not broken the image of God, but completed eradicated it.

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    Allan C. Carlson on how the industrial revolution changed the shape of households (including their floorplans) and the understanding of marriage

    Conjugal America: On the Public Purposes of Marriage (Transaction, 2006)

    "The separation of workplace and home was a fundamental social consequence of industrialization. Central power sources, be it steam or water power, drew adults and children away, and now you lived and you worked in different places."
    —Allan Carlson

    From natural law, we turn to the natural family. Dr. Allan Carlson talks about the substance of what natural means and cites historical Christian uses as well as United Nations documents in contrast to Rousseau. Carlson argues that the Industrial Revolution changed the shape not simply of the economy at large, but of family life, in so far as the economic life that was once tightly bound to the home was gradually sourced out of the home. The de-functionalization of the home rendered the home increasing void of the substance of what people did in life. Governments were complicit in this transformation of the home through housing policy and regulations that incentivized structual changes in the home corresponding to the loss of economic functionality. As family and home life was reduced to places of mere emotional bonding, the public understanding of marriage followed suit. Consequently, acceptance of sexual relations based solely on emotional fulfillment (as well as of the breaking of those relations when emotional needs were not being met) became socially normative.

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    Sheila O'Connor-Ambrose on the work of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese in defending marriage against the various claims of individualism

    Marriage: The Dream That Refuses to Die (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2008)

    "The separation of workplace and home was a fundamental social consequence of industrialization. Central power sources, be it steam or water power, drew adults and children away, and now you lived and you worked in different places."
    Sheila O'Connor-Ambrose

    In this segment, Ken Myers interviews Sheila O'Connor-Ambrose about her mentor Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. After describing her first encounter with Dr. Fox-Genovese, O'Connor-Ambrose talks about the how the organic web of social relationships uniting human beings is marginalized by the way our society even discusses issues relating to life and family. One culprit is the rampant assumption of individualistic autonomy that elevates individual pleasure and subjective right to the extent that the legitimacy of non-individualistic social entities and communities is called into question and sometimes denied. The very concept of authority, whether natural or divine, is implicated as illegitimate in the face of the moral and social autonomy of the self. The irony is that the loss of communal authority does not actually free individuals, but simply opens up the individual to the dominance of political and economic forces writ large.